THE NEW COVENANT: A Ministration of the Spirit

(This is an edited version of Chapter 7 of Andrew Murray’s ‘The Two Covenants’ – first published by J. Nisbet, London, 1899)

“You are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tables of stone, but on tables that are hearts of flesh . . . . Our sufficiency is of God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of the New Covenant; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. For if the ministration of death came with glory, how shall not rather the ministration of the Spirit be with glory? For if the ministration of condemnation is glory, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.”  (2 Cor. 3: 3, 6-10)

In this wonderful chapter Paul reminds the Corinthians of the chief characteristics of his ministry. As a ministry of the New Covenant he contrasts it, and the dispensation of which it is part, with that of the Old. The Old was carved in stone, the New in the heart. The Old could be written in ink, and was in the letter that kills; the New is of the Spirit that makes alive. The Old was a ministration of condemnation and death; the New, of righteousness and life. The Old indeed had its glory, for it came from God, and brought its Divine blessing, but it was a glory that passed away, and had no glory by reason of the glory that surpasses, the exceeding glory of that which endures. With the Old there was the veil on the heart; in the New, the veil is taken away from the face and the heart. The Spirit of the Lord gives liberty, and, reflecting with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, we are changed from glory to glory, into the same image, by the Spirit of the Lord. The glory that surpasses proved its power in this, that it not only manifested on its Divine side, but so exerted its power in the heart and life of its subjects, that it was seen in them too, as they were changed by the Spirit into Christ’s image, from glory to glory.

Meditate on this contrast. The Old Covenant was of the letter that kills. The Law came with its literal instruction, and sought by the knowledge it gave of God’s will, to appeal to man’s fear and his love, to his natural powers of mind and conscience and will. It spoke to him as if he could obey, in order to convince him of what he did not know, namely that he couldnot obey. And so it fulfilled its mission: “The commandment which was unto life, this I found to be unto death.”

How different under the New Covenant!  In place of the letter, the Spirit that gives life, that breathes the very life of God, the life of heaven into us. Instead of a law carved in stone, the law written in the heart, worked into the heart’s affection and powers, making it one with them. Instead of the vain attempt to work from the outside inward, the Spirit and its law are put into the inward parts, to work themselves out from there, in life and walk.

This passage brings into view the distinctive blessing of the New Covenant. In working our salvation God bestowed upon us two wonderful gifts. We read: “God sent forth His Son, that He might redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”

Here we have the two parts of God’s saving work. The one, the more objective, what He did in order that we might become His children – He sent forth His Son. The second, the more subjective, what He did that we might live like His children – He sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. In the first part we have the external manifestation of the work of redemption; in the second, its inward result. The former is done for the sake of the latter. These two parts form one great whole that cannot be separated.

In the promises of the New Covenant, as we find them in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and also in many other passages of Scripture, it is clear that God’s great aim in salvation is to get possession of the heart. The heart is the real life: with the heart a man loves, and wills, and acts. The heart makes the man. God made man’s heart for His own dwelling place, that in it He might reveal His love and His glory. God sent Christ to accomplish a redemption by which man’s heart could be won back to Him – nothing but that could satisfy God. And this is achieved when the Holy Spirit makes the heart of God’s child what it should be.

The whole work of Christ’s redemption – His atonement and victory, His exaltation and intercession, His glory at the right hand of God – all these are only preparatory to what is the chief triumph of His grace: the renewal of the heart to be the temple of God! Through Christ, God gives the Holy Spirit to glorify Him in the heart of man, by working there all that He has done and is doing for the soul.

We think that it’s for Christ’s honour that we emphasise his work on the Cross and in heaven, more than His work in our heart by the Holy Spirit. The result has been that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and His mighty work as the inner life of a new creation, are rarely known in true power.

If we look carefully at what the New Covenant promises mean, we shall see how the “sending forth of the Spirit of His Son into our hearts” is indeed the consummation and crown of Christ’s redeeming work. Let us think what these promises imply.

  • In the Old Covenant man had failed in what he had to do. In the New, God is to do everything in him.
  • The Old could only convict of sin. The New is to put it away and cleanse the heart from its filthiness.
  • In the Old it was the heart that was wrong; for the New a new heart is provided, into which God puts His fear and His law and His love.
  • The Old demanded, but failed to secure obedience; in the New, God causes us to walk in His judgments.

The New is to fit man for a true holiness, a true fulfilment of the law of loving God with the whole heart, and our neighbours as ourselves, a walk truly well-pleasing to God. The New changes a man from glory to glory after the image of Christ. All because the Spirit of God’s Son is given into the heart.

The Old gave no power: in the New all is by the Spirit, the mighty power of God. As complete as the reign and power of Christ on the throne of heaven, is His dominion on the throne of the heart by His Holy Spirit given to us.

It is as we bring all these traits of the New Covenant life together into one focus, and look at the heart of God’s child as the object of this mighty redemption, that we shall begin to understand what is secured to us, and what it is that we are to expect from our Covenant God. We shall see what the glory of the ministration of the Spirit consists of – even that God can fill our heart with His love, and make it His abode.

We rightly say that the worth of the Son of God, who came to die for us, is the measure of the worth of the soul in God’s sight, and of the greatness of the work that had to be done to save it. Let us go on to see that the Divine glory of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son, is the measure of God’s longing to have our heart wholly for Himself, of the glory of the work that is to be done in us, and the power by which that work will be accomplished.

We shall then see how the glory of the ministration of the Spirit is no other than the glory of the Lord, as it is not only in heaven, but resting upon us and dwelling in us, and changing us into the same image from glory to glory. The inconceivable glory of our exalted Lord in heaven has its counterpart here on earth in the surpassing glory of the Holy Spirit who glorifies Him in us, who lays His glory on us, as He changes us into His likeness.

The New Covenant has no power to save and to bless except as it is a ministration of the Spirit. That Spirit works in lesser or greater degree, as He is neglected and grieved, or yielded to and trusted. Let us honour Him, and give Him His place as the Spirit of the New Covenant, by expecting and accepting all He waits to do for us. He is the great gift of the Covenant. His coming from heaven was the proof that the Mediator of the Covenant is on the throne in glory, and can now make us partakers of the heavenly life.

He is the only teacher of what the Covenant means. Dwelling in our heart, He wakens there the thought and the desire for what God has prepared for us. He is the Spirit of faith, who enables us to believe the otherwise incomprehensible blessing and power in which the New Covenant works, and to claim it as our own. He is the Spirit of grace and of power, by whom the obedience of the Covenant and the fellowship with God can be maintained without interruption.

He Himself is the Revealer and the Glorifier of Jesus, the Possessor and the Bearer and the Communicator of all the Covenant promises, its Mediator and Surety.

To believe fully in the Holy Spirit, as the present and abiding and all-comprehending gift of the New Covenant, has been to many the entrance into its fullness of blessing.

Begin at once, child of God, to give the Holy Spirit that place in your religion that He has in God’s plan. Be still before God, and believe that He is within you, and ask the Father to work through Him in you. Regard yourself, your spirit as well as your body, with holy reverence as His temple. Let the consciousness of His holy presence and working fill you with holy calm and fear. And be sure that all that God calls you to be, Christ through His Spirit will do in you.